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Stargazing within the Scottish Highlands and islands: native specialists share their favorite areas | Uncover the spirit of the Highlands and islands this autumn



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If most of us needed to write a bucket record for journey experiences, chances are high that seeing the northern lights could be fairly close to the highest. However the unearthly spectre of the aurora borealis is only one in a myriad of charms the darkish skies of the Highlands and islands will boast this autumn. We spoke to seven native residents to get their suggestions for the best way to broaden your horizons – whereas scanning them for taking pictures stars and delving into the awe-inspiring mysteries of the Milky Manner.

Unst and Yell, Shetland

Eager of Hamar nature reserve; Saxavord Planetary Path; and West Sandwick seaside
Beneficial by: Catriona Waddington, chair of Wild Skies Shetland


Shetlanders are so conversant in the northern lights that they name them the “mirrie dancers” (translated as: shimmering dancers). Unst, essentially the most northerly inhabited island, is nearer to the Arctic Circle than London, making it the perfect place to identify this pure marvel. “The northern lights are a deal with, [but] they don’t come to order,” warns Catriona Waddington, explaining that she and different native people arrange a Sky Path on the island to entertain guests, even when there’s cloud cowl. “However the wild skies right here, even throughout the day, supply sights like double rainbows, which you’ll be able to see finish to finish, with the second arch paler, and its colors the opposite means round.” She recommends the Eager of Hamar nature reserve, the Planetary Path at Saxavord and West Sandwick seaside in close by Yell as unbeatable vantage factors.


Pentland Firth, Dunnet seaside and John O’Groats
Beneficial by: Chris Sinclair, astrophotographer

Within the Gaelic language, the northern lights had been personified as na fir-chlis (translated as: nimble males) quite than “mirrie dancers”, and Chris Sinclair explains that the autumn equinox is the right time to catch a glimpse of them within the Highlands. “For a transparent view, my favorite spots are Pentland Firth, Dunnet seaside and John O’Groats,” he says. “Simply keep in mind to show your automotive lights off whenever you arrive at a location – you possibly can’t count on to see it in any other case and should destroy 10 minutes of one other stargazer’s night time whereas figuring that out.” This autumn, he’s additionally excited to seize the Orionid meteor bathe, which can peak on the night time of 21-Twenty second October.

The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney
The Ring of Brodgar, a part of the guts of neolithic Orkney. {Photograph}: Colin Keldie/


North Ronaldsay
Beneficial by: Alison Duncan, warden of North Ronaldsay Fowl Observatory

North Ronaldsay is essentially the most northerly isle of the Orkney archipelago, and is now formally recognised as a Darkish Sky Island. “The aurora borealis relies on photo voltaic exercise, which is in an 11-year cycle – this 12 months we loved good lights in January,” says Alison Duncan. Alongside along with her fellow islanders, Duncan labored very arduous to win this coveted standing, the one gentle air pollution affecting their skies now comes from throughout the ocean: “You’ll be able to see Kirkwall 35 miles away, however even that glow is lower than it was.” Maintain a watch out for North Ronaldsay Darkish Skies occasions this autumn and winter.


Kilmory, Isle of Rum
Beneficial by: Alex Mumford, customer service supervisor

In relation to stargazing on the Isle of Rum, Alex Mumford recommends the whole island. “It’s almost all protected nature reserve, which has no lighting in any respect,” explains the Bristol native, who relocated right here with girlfriend, Buffy, throughout lockdown. “That units us aside from wherever else and the gorgeous colors and hues within the autumn sky are spectacular. Stargazing season begins in September … our greatest spot for northern lights searching could be Kilmory on the northern tip.”


Cairngorms Darkish Sky Park, Moray Speyside

Blairfindy Moor
Beneficial by: Sam Robinson, secretary of the Cairngorms Astronomy Group

For an unparalleled view of the northern lights, Sam Robinson suggests Blairfindy Moor – which is a part of the Cairngorms Darkish Sky Park. Nonetheless, he explains: “The primary function, particularly in autumn, is definitely the Milky Manner – it arches straight overhead at the moment of the 12 months. You’ll see a ribbon of shiny stars and the Summer time Triangle, of Vega, Altair and Deneb, it’s stunning … After I see these stars come up over the horizon it’s like assembly previous mates.”

Argyll & The Isles

Isle of Gigha
Beneficial by: Casey-Jo Zammit, countryside ranger


Even peculiar moons look monumental on the Isle of Gigha, in line with Casey-Jo Zammit, from the Isle of Gigha Heritage Belief. This 12 months, summer season ends on a blue moon and might be adopted by a supermoon on 29 September – making for breathtaking sights in the dead of night skies of Argyll & The Isles. “On a transparent night time, the entire island is moonlit,” Zammit explains, speaking concerning the seven miles of magical paths you possibly can ramble alongside. “The group got here collectively to construct a darkish skies theatre right here within the good place, so there’s completely no gentle air pollution … however guests may have an exquisite view even from their resort.”

Stars and satellites leaving trails in the night sky behind the rocky feature known as the old man of Tarsuinn, Beinn Tarsuinn, Isle Of Arran.
Arran’s seashores are the right setting to identify the celebs, planets and meteors. {Photograph}: Getty Photographs/iStockphoto

Isle of Arran

Goatfell and the Pirnmill hills
Beneficial by: Kirstie Smith, photographer

One other main attraction within the spectacular night time sky this autumn would be the planets: Mercury might be seen 16-30 September, whereas Venus might be brightest on 19 September. The backdrops and seashores of Arran make a must-see setting for the dawn – even with out this further inducement. “I keep in mind one night time seeing meteors,” remembers Arran native Kirstie Smith, who bivouacs to shoot the sky and recommends the castles, Goatfell and the western ridges of the Pirnmill hills as good patches of night time sky. “After which the mist rolled in for a night-time inversion – it was mind-blowing, I used to be mesmerised the whole night time.”

Proceed these wonderful experiences

If these suggestions from locals have impressed you to go to the Highlands and islands, why not proceed your stargazing journey at these different common stargazing areas:


The Stream County, Caithness

The Stream Nation, in Caithness and Sutherland. The character reserve at Forsinard Flows has not too long ago been designated as a darkish sky discovery web site.

Wester Ross, North Highlands

Maintain a watch out for Wester Ross Biosphere Darkish Sky competition 2023, which might be happening this November.

Outer Hebrides

With lengthy autumn nights, the Outer Hebrides are recognized for his or her restricted gentle air pollution and awe-inspiring views of the celebs. You’ll be able to spot planets, the Milky Manner and the Andromeda galaxy together with your bare eye. Eager stargazers shouldn’t miss subsequent 12 months’s Hebridean Darkish Skies competition, with some fascinating stargazing occasions, reside music, movie, visible artwork, theatre and astronomy talks.


Isle of Coll, Argyll & The Isles

The Isle of Coll, Internal Hebrides, has been recognised as a world darkish sky group due to its dedication to the preservation of the night time sky.

Autumn is the right season to find the distinctive Spirit of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands. Begin planning your journey at

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